What is Awareness?

Could we perhaps say that awareness is not limited to ‘awareness of’?

So, for instance, there is an ‘awareness of’ the thing we call ‘tree’, or of the ghostly white disc in the night sky we call ‘moon’ - just as there might be an ‘awareness of’ physical pain when we stub our toe.

But awareness is not limited to this.

I would say we cannot say what awareness is, we can say what it is not. Awareness is not thought, not word, not naming, not memory, not self, not subject, not word object.

Think of awareness as the light that enables sight, the illumination that enables seeing. Without words and images, language, to “make sense” of sensation, there is only color, contrast, shapes, sounds, smells, movement, etc., and the organism’s visceral response to it all until thought responds/reacts with the words and images that accurately or inaccurately describe what is happening, enabling one to respond in a meaningful (for better or worse) way.

So, words and images are, as you say, illusions, mental constructs, but without them to impart meaning to what is unfolding, one cannot respond to stimuli, how ever intelligently or mistakenly. Practical thought has its place.

Psychological thought, however, has no place at all because it is resistance to and denial of the silence and emptiness that practical thought informs when necessary.

I understand. The term experiential awareness is good, unsure if I’ve heard it before. From its pov what you say makes good sense to me: Awareness is not just detection, it’s also qualia.

But I am talking about a more pure/primitive awareness that involves detection alone, no qualia. Staying with the radio, it’s like reception itself, not the feel/qualia of reception.

I guess what I’m getting at is close to the notion of philosophical zombies? (Apt for the season! :wink: )

Practical means action. What is practical is action.
Is thought action?

Practical thought is action. Psychological thought is reaction, resistance.

I think there is some confusion here Rick.

A water-mill grinds grain by ‘receiving’ the water from a flowing river; but obviously this is just a way of speaking: no actual ‘reception’ - in the sense of an active communication - takes place.

Similarly a radio converts radio waves into sounds that are intelligible for human purposes. But any actual ‘reception’ or ‘detection’ is being done by the human beings who receive and translate the sounds that are produced.

The relatively arbitrary assortment of circuit boards, resistors, capacitors, transformers, transistors, plastic and metal, etc, do not ‘detect’ or ‘receive’ anything: so there is no qualia for the man-made object we call a ‘radio’.

However, as was being discussed on the other thread, there may be ‘something it is like’ to be a crustacean. I won’t repeat the reasoning for that here as I went into it there already.

So I don’t see how it makes sense to say that a form of awareness exists in which there is absolutely no qualia. Why call it awareness then (primitive or otherwise)?

Yes - isn’t awareness the light in which anything that happens or is happening (inwardly or outwardly) can be revealed?

I have no objection to this.

I’d like to add to the confusion please.

Firstly by protesting against this idea that awareness must detect something - and therefore that awareness must detect (no detection necessary in the absence of things detected).

And secondly, in the absence of subjects that detect or objects detected, can there be experience? In which case pure awareness is pure mystery (aka silence).

However I don’t understand how pure awareness can be (it is surely nonsense) if the universe is not only awareness (which sounds like crazy talk!)

I mean, for me to dissapear into Samadhi, don’t I have to exist, decide to sit in meditation, etc first?

Haha! - join in :smile:

Obviously Rick will have to answer your question when he sees your post, but perhaps it’s worth putting the discussion in context.

In the OP it was suggested that there may be different aspects to awareness - what Rick has been calling the “bare-bones” point of view vs the “more expansive” point of view.

Perhaps this is also the difference between ‘awareness of’ and a form of awareness that is non dual (as Adeen has written about).

For me though it is preferable to gain a clear understanding of the ‘bare-bones’ perspective first, before plunging into deeper waters.

So when Rick says things such as “awareness [has] no more mystery to it than a box that can detect radio waves” - or that

I feel I need to pause and clarify what is meant.

Perhaps all Rick is doing is postulating a non dual awareness in which there is no quality of experience? Possibly.

But his references to “philosophical zombies” and transistor radios suggests that he has some notion of awareness he has yet to explain.

Ordinarily understood awareness implies (necessarily) some form of perception or sentience. The word ‘aware’ comes from a Proto-Germanic word ‘ga-waraz’ - meaning “wary, cautious”.

While the Proto-Indo-European root is ‘wer-‘ - meaning “perceive, watch out for”.

So any definition which implies the total absence of sentience or perception (or qualia) has to be explored carefully, without creating unnecessary confusion (I’m not saying you are doing this).

Yes we are speaking past each other a bit, methinks!

The terms I’m using, detection and reception, have nothing to do with sentience or qualia. I’m using them like lay people use them: radio reception is the process of a radio detecting radio waves.

When I explore an idea, my starting point is to try to penetrate to its essential core. I don’t always get there, indeed an argument could be made that there is no there to get to! The core essence of awareness for me is: detection. Period. No interpretation, association, comparison, all of which are driven by thought. Qualia and feeling are (perhaps) in another category, the Subjective Zone.

That said I’m open to different, more expansive views of what awareness is (might be).

Am I imagining or are we falling (have we fallen) into a Rabbit Hole of Words?!! :wink:

I think you achieved your objective!

I understand your hesitation thinking awareness might only ‘come into existence’ when it is called for. I heard the idea from a very learned Buddhist philosophy dude, and I resisted it strongly. Then it made all sorts of sense to me!

I like that! Maybe it’s a level ‘beneath’ detection, that would make Advaitin sense: detection (and everything else) supervenes on the Mystery. :slight_smile:

I don’t see how what you are saying makes sense. You say

And by detection (or reception) you don’t mean sentience of any kind, but simply something like

So you are apparently saying that a radio is aware?

But obviously a radio receiver is not aware.

As I mentioned to Douglas, the word aware means to perceive, to watch out for - words that implies sentience, consciousness, perceptivity, etc.

So I think you are misusing the word ‘awareness’ here.

What is awareness cannot be conveyed in dialogue or words.
In words we can only say what awareness is not.
It depends on whether dialogue participants are aware or not.
To have a dialogue with K might be different to having a dialogue with those caught in web of words.
Those operating on words intellectually only see the world as word. They are not able to explore awareness directly in daily life because of obsession of thought.
It reminds me of the example of Plato’s cave. Those who are in the cave, believe their images are real, refuse to accept that awareness has nothing to do with their words. They will keep discussing intellectually on level of words. Their images, their words are their world which is an intellectual cave.
Those who see awareness has nothing to do with words have left that cave as it is pointless to discuss intellectually about awareness.

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Just based on this, we might then say that our ears are not aware (they just react to signals and transform them, like radios).
And awareness is more a movement of motive and discrimination (based on fear and memory) produced by the brain for the self identity?

So the K teaching of awareness would be about being wary of wariness?

Or am I cherry picking and concluding from the wrong opinions?

I respect what you say Adeen. Ultimately all psychological questions must be resolved nonverbally through direct perception.

It is also true that there is a cultural tendency to give greater value to the intellect than to direct perception, and that many people are satisfied with ‘living in the cave’ of the intellect.

However, there is clearly a legitimate place for verbal dialogue concerning psychological matters. And as this is a discussion forum in which verbal communication is clearly necessary, this is an opportunity for people to attempt to clarify any misunderstandings we might have about the mind.

If there are those who act in good faith, I don’t see anything wrong with this. - Although it is also important to be reminded again and again that the ‘word is not the thing’, as you have done here.

I don’t get what you are saying here Douglas, or what the connection is between the quoted text and the points you are making?

From my pointing out that radios are not aware you respond by saying that

Obviously the senses (including our ears) do not exist in isolation but are connected to the brain and nervous system, and are accompanied by sentience (sentience being the susceptibility to sensation, e.g. sound). Radios are not sentient.

Your second point has to do with the etymology of the word ‘awareness’, although I’m also not clear what your concern is here. The basic root of the word ‘awareness’ is ‘to perceive’, ‘watch out for’ - which implies sentience (as do its later Proto-Germanic associations of wariness and caution). I brought up this etymology in response to Rick’s claim that awareness does not involve sentience.

My sense is that although basic awareness always involves (or is indeed synonymous with) sentience - sentience being the susceptibility to sensation - there may be an ingredient in awareness, or an aspect of awareness, that is not reducible to sentience.

As a rough analogy, we ordinarily encounter light (illumination) through the objects onto which it falls. But light may be something in itself (even without objects).

So, similarly, we ordinarily encounter awareness through our awareness of things - whether thoughts, sensations, objects or people. But awareness may be something in itself.

Another analogy is that of space. If one thinks of a vase then one might say that the space inside the vase is distinct from the space outside the vase. But if the vase is broken or smashed, the space inside and the space outside are revealed to be the same space.

So in the same way, I wonder, is there an aspect of awareness that isn’t personal or limited to one’s own brain, but which exists in itself, like space?

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